What is Tonsillitis?

When you open your mouth and say, “ah,” your doctor is assessing the overall health of your mouth and throat, which includes your tonsils. Tonsils are lymph tissue located on both sides of your throat, above and behind your tongue. When they become infected or inflamed, it’s called tonsillitis.

Causes of Tonsilitis 

Tonsillitis is usually caused by a virus that can spread through the air, but it can also be caused by bacteria, including streptococcus, commonly referred to as strep throat. The most common symptoms are sore throat, fever, runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, coughing and swollen lymph nodes. In most cases, it lasts four to 10 days.

Diagnosis & Treatment of Tonsillitis

Your doctor will likely be able to tell if you have tonsillitis by looking at your tonsils to see if they are red or swollen or have yellow or white spots.

Management of Symptoms

Your doctor may order a strep test to determine if the cause is bacterial. If it is, you’ll need antibiotics. Viral tonsillitis typically goes away on its own. Things you can do at home to help relieve your symptoms include:

  • Gargling with warm salt water. Mix 1 tsp sal with 8 fl oz warm water.
  • Drinking warm or cool liquids (whichever you prefer).
  • Eating popsicles.
  • Resting.
  • Using a humidifier.
  • Using cough drops, or throat lozenges.
  • Taking over-the-counter pain medicine like Tylenol or ibuprofen.


If you have recurring or long-lasting infections that don’t respond to treatment and impact your daily life, you may be a candidate for surgery to remove your tonsils (tonsillectomy). Your adenoids, which are like a third tonsil in the back of your nose, may also need to be removed. The national criteria for removal of your tonsils or adenoids include experiencing a significant amount of strep throat and tonsillitis episodes over a long period of time.

The size of your tonsils may also be a consideration as many children and adults with large tonsils and adenoids will develop obstructive sleep apnea, which can affect your heart and lungs.

Talk to your Mercy doctor about which treatment option is best for you. Whether it’s antibiotics or outpatient surgery, we’ll get you back to talking and laughing comfortably.

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